The Titans were off, but there’s plenty to talk about after Vanderbilt’s thrashing of Tennessee and a series of events out West that put Alabama back in the national title picture. Here’s a wrap of the significant happenings in the Southeastern Conference this week.
Vanderbilt ushers in Dooley Farewell Tour
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has spoken of “changing the culture” around the VU football program ever since his arrival on campus 23 months ago. Never has there been a clearer sign of his success than what happened on Saturday night at Dudley Field.
For those wearing black and gold, it couldn’t have been a prettier site: Vanderbilt drilled its hated arch-rival Tennessee by a 41-18 count at Dudley Field on Saturday night, and truth be told, it wasn’t that close. The Commodores cost themselves a touchdown with a needless penalty and another when tight end Kris Kentera, open in the end zone, instead tipped a pass to a Tennessee defender… not that any of this dampened the spirits of the Commodore faithful on hand.
And speaking of the fans, a partisan VU crowd for the UT game has been almost as rare as a Commodore win in this series over the last 85 years. Most of the estimates seemed to put the crowd at about two-thirds in Vandy’s favor, though from my view in the press box at kickoff, it looked like there were about three fans in black for every one in orange. Regardless, nobody would debate that VU had the edge in fan turnout from the start – and certainly at the end, as many Commodore fans stayed around for at least a half-hour afterwards, while large numbers of UT fans left before the fourth quarter even started.
Vanderbilt won this game because cornerbacks Andre Hal and Trey Wilson helped shut down UT stars Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, while the Vol corners had no answer for Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews, who are starting to put themselves in the discussion of the SEC’s best receiving duo. UT has beaten Vandy with speed for years, yet it was the Vols hopelessly chasing Vandy from behind much of the evening – a sign of the changing times, for sure.
Of course, being ripped by Vandy doesn’t sit so well with Vol fans, and on Sunday afternoon, UT athletic director Dave Hart announced that coach Derek Dooley would be relieved of his responsibilities after this Saturday’s game against Kentucky. The Vandy game was just the final nail in the coffin, as Dooley is now just 1-14 in the SEC in his last two years, and 15-21 overall. The Vols have one more game with Kentucky this week (incidentally, UK fired its coach, Joker Phillips, after Vandy routed the Wildcats two weekends ago) but at this point, fans are far more interested in who’ll replace Dooley (there’s a groundswell of support for John Gruden, though I have no idea how realistic that is) than they are the game.
Meanwhile, Vandy fans have a lot of success to celebrate – Saturday’s win was the fifth SEC victory of the year, VU’s most conference wins since 1935 – and a seventh win, which insures VU a first winning season since 2008. VU also has a chance to win its eighth game for the first time since 1982 on Saturday; given that the Commodores are a 12 ½-point favorite, I like their chances.
Elsewhere in the SEC…
Alabama 49, Western Carolina 0: There was absolutely nothing notable about this game as ‘Bama led 42-0 at the half and played reserves the rest of the way. However, the Crimson Tide got an absolute gift when Baylor beat Kansas State and Stanford knocked off Oregon, clearing the way for coach Nick Saban to defend his national title if he can beat Auburn next week (that should be easy) and then beat Georgia in the SEC title game (that might not be so easy). I’ve thought Alabama was the best team in the country even with that one loss, and now, the ‘Tide caught the break that may allow them to prove it.
Syracuse 31, Missouri 27: Ryan Nassib’s TD pass to Alec Lemon in the closing seconds probably took care of Missouri’s bowl hopes with Texas A&M looming next week. The good news is that QB James Franklin looked great until he got knocked out in the fourth quarter; the bad news is that we still don’t know if suspended DT Sheldon Richardson – Mizzou’s best player – is back next week.
LSU 41, Ole Miss 35: Poor Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze – he can’t catch a break. The undermanned Rebels had their hearts broken in the final minute against Vanderbilt last week, and now blew a 7-point, fourth-quarter lead, falling in the final 15 seconds as Jeremy Hill scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown. Meanwhile, I can’t really figure out how good LSU is; for all that talent, the Tigers were out-gained 463-427 on Saturday and have only out-scored SEC teams by 23 points in seven games.
Mississippi State 45, Arkansas 14: MSU scored the last 38 points in gaining one of its more impressive wins of the season. If the Bulldogs can beat Ole Miss, the Gator Bowl will likely extend an invite.
South Carolina 24, Wofford 7: This was shockingly a 7-all game in the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks have really been two teams: the one that was 6-0 after thrashing Georgia, and the one that’s muddled through the last five games with a 3-2 mark. Next weekend’s game at Clemson against Clemson may determine whether it’s a great season, or merely a good one, for Carolina.
Florida 23, Jacksonville State 0: Speaking of sliding teams, the Gators’ offense continues to struggle while the defense continues to carry coach Will Muschamp’s squad. In spite of it, the Gators are almost certain to go to a BCS bowl if they can beat Florida State on Saturday.
Georgia 45, Georgia Southern 14: The triple option gave the Bulldogs some trouble for a half (not completely surprising) before the Bulldogs’ massive talent advantage took over. While those two upsets out West put the focus on Alabama, let’s not forget that the Bulldogs, now No. 3 in the BCS, could beat the ‘Tide in the SEC title game and go to the national title game instead.
Texas A&M 47, Sam Houston State 28: ‘Bama may not be the only beneficiary of K-State’s loss. Voters like to vote for the best player on the best team (that was KSU QB Collin Klein), but now that the Wildcats fell… well, who else can you really justify putting ahead of Johnny Manziel, who added another 367 running and passing yards to his lofty totals on Saturday.
Auburn 51, Alabama A&M 7: Tre’ Mason and Onterio McCalebb each went over 100 yards rushing, as Auburn gained its third (and almost certainly, final) win on Saturday.
Kentucky 34, Samford 3: The Wildcats ended an 8-game losing streak, which sets up a battle with Tennessee next week to see which team can avoid going winless in the league.